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Marks My Words: To sleep, perchance to leave

After a long day of work, school or vigorous shopping, you’ve reached that point in the evening when the one and only thought on your mind is your bed. Ah, to be in your smooth and silky sheets! You fantasize about your fluffy down comforter. You find that a smile springs unbidden to your lips when your thoughts drift to your pillow. Outwardly you scoff that sleep is for the weak, but inwardly you rejoice at the idea.

Unfortunately, standing in between you and bed is some kind of engagement: a dinner gathering, a coffee date, a raging party. And because plans were made weeks ago, because you probably couldn’t go to bed at 8 p.m. in good conscience anyway, you try as hard as you can to psych yourself up for whatever the occasion is, even as you mentally pick out your PJs for later.

You put on a good face. But after an hour, or two, or even three, when you’re yawning just about every three minutes, you know you have to call an end to things.

But how? The thing is, no one likes to be the tired person, the “party-pooper,” the self-avowed “old person” who prefers to go home and sleep instead of party or otherwise stay awake. As a result, choosing to take your leave early can make you vulnerable to questions, accusations and judgmental looks.

“You’re leaving already??” shouts your friend as you sidle toward the door. But luckily, a large gathering is so full of distractions that people will forget about you soon enough. You can leave, and the party will go on unabated.

Or you’ll face a particularly stubborn friend. “But it’s only 2 a.m.! We’re getting ready to post-game!” As appealing as the prospect is, and as much as you want to gulp down a few more drinks in preparation for the sunrise, you really just want to sleep. You’re “lame” and a bunch of other uncool adjectives, but you leave anyway.

The one on one is harder because if you leave, well, the other person has to leave too. At the same time, your fatigue is also harder to hide if you’re only with one other person, one witness to your sagging eyelids. As a result, an unfortunate cycle ensues: You struggle as hard as you can to be awake and attentive, but your friend is merely subjected to your fatigue for a longer period of time.

You can only desperately hope that this friend will take the hint and exit first, sparing you the need of having to comment on your desire to replace friend with bed. And yet, sometimes you deal with people who don’t get the hint.

I spent last summer very much alone in a foreign country, so when the opportunity to have dinner with a friend of a friend arose, I jumped at the chance to explore a city with human company. The two of us walked, had dinner and then walked some more. Four hours later, I was still excited to be out of my room; he, on the other hand, finally had to take a stand.

“Hey, so I woke up at 5 a.m. today for work, and I have to wake up at 5 a.m. again tomorrow…Can I take you back now?”

I felt terrible. He hadn’t shown signs of tremendous interest in our conversation, but I had ignored this to satisfy my own desire to talk. Why hadn’t I picked up on his hints? As soon as he asked the question, I noticed just how tired he really did look. Whether he actually was tired or just supremely bored of my company, I appreciated his bluntness.

And that’s why, rather than leading on your energetic and exuberant friends, go ahead and tell them that you’re tired. You’re only human, after all, and subjecting them to your fatigue might not be their idea of a great time.

At the same time, it’s hard to feel like you’re kicking them out because of something trivial like the fact that your body needs to rest. When I was a kid, my parents had a ready and easy excuse when it came time to call a halt to a social gathering. Whether it was time to kick people out of our house or to politely extricate ourselves from another home, there was nothing quite like a five-year-old to provide a host of reasons for departure.

“Oh, look, it’s 9 p.m.! It’s past her bedtime.” You can’t argue with that one. Perhaps if we all had our own five-year-old children in tow, life would be a bit easier. Putting your toddler to bed is a guaranteed exit strategy. But for now we’ll have to go ahead and admit when we’d rather be sleeping.


Miriam will answer any emails sent to melloram “at” stanford “dot” edu, but only if she hasn’t gone to bed already.

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